Whether you’re taking a day trip, heading out for the weekend, or going on a full-blown vacation, traveling with kids can be challenging. One of the hardest parts is keeping them occupied while you’re traveling. A lot of parents resort to video games, cell phones, and portable DVD players to keep their kiddos entertained while traveling.
While these may work to keep children quiet and content, they don’t generally teach anything valuable, and often create habits that you’d rather avoid.
In fact, traveling is the perfect time to teach your children all kinds of things. Why not use this opportunity to have some fun while they learn something new or refresh old skills?
Teach Map Reading: Thanks to technology, the next generation may never learn how to read a map. While some love these developments, never teaching young people to read maps really does them a major disservice.
What happens when that technology fails while they’re in the middle of an unfamiliar area? Or when they’re in another country without data on their phone? Or their phone battery dies?
Use the time you spend in the car during your travels to teach your children to read maps. And to tell what direction you’re driving. When they’re old enough, let them take turns riding in the front with the map. They can tell you where to go and help you reach your destination. This is a skill that will help them in the future!
Besides the navigational aspects of map reading, it shows them that there’s an order to how things are organized, and that the world is much bigger than just their own neighborhood.
Once I learned how to read maps, I LOVED it. So much so that when I was on a college road trip to a Christian seminar in Colorado, I was looking at the map the entire time. My car-mates thought I didn’t trust them to navigate correctly… but the truth was that I simply couldn’t imagine traveling without seeing the larger perspective of where we were and where we were headed.
Learn State Trivia: When preparing for an out-of-state vacation, look up some trivia questions about the state you and your family will be visiting. If you’re driving through several states to get to your destination, look up trivia for each of the states you’ll be traveling through.
Once you’re on your way, start asking your children the questions, and read the answers for the ones they don’t know. This is a fun way to teach fun facts about different states.
You can also use this time to teach your kids the states and their corresponding capitals. Another option is to theme your questions from each state – learn about each one’s history, literature, or politics, for example.
Plan Ahead: If you truly want to make all of your trips educational for your kids, plan ahead when mapping out where you’ll spend your next vacation.
Look for historically significant areas to visit. For instance, a trip to Virginia could include a visit to colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Mt. Vernon, and possibly excursions into Washington, D.C.
If you’ve already decided on your destination, investigate the surrounding areas. Visit attractions where your children will learn something new. It might not be anything particular to the area, but you could learn about a skill (such as making wine or cheese), visit a war or science museum, or find a botanical garden to explore.
Go Off-Road: Don’t be so rigid that you don’t allow time to go “off-road” or deviate from your plan. If there’s an educational attraction nearby that you and/or your kids are interested in, then go! An attitude of spontaneity can make the whole trip more fun.
Experiencing things together as a family while traveling is probably the best way to make a trip educational. However, you have to give yourself (and your family) the freedom to modify your plans while traveling in order to do so. Remember, getting there really is half the fun.
Road Trip Games: Games that stretch your memory, help you get to know one another better, and test your knowledge are all great ways to pass the time.
Memory games like “Grandma took a trip to California…” can be fun and challenging for all ages. Each person in turn says, “Grandma took a trip to California and she brought a _____”, filling in the blank with an item, starting with an item that begins with the letter “a” and going through the alphabet (apple, ball, camera…). You have to say not only your own, but also repeat (in order) the ones everyone before you said.
There are also books full of questions to ask each other, for both kids and adults. You may be surprised with how thought-provoking they are.
You can also test your kids’ spelling or math skills in the car – just give them a word or a problem and ask them to spell or solve it. I used to do that with my daughters on a regular basis during our one-and-a-half hour trips to the nearest “big city” (when we lived in a small rural area). This was when they were about 5 and 8… my older daughter even learned how to spell “entrepreneur” during one of those trips.
Whenever we took long road trips when I was a child, we had contests to see how many state’s license plates we could spot as we traveled along. We kept a log and considered it a pretty serious competition. No one wanted to take a nap, for fear we’d miss out on some cool license plate from a far-away state (like Hawaii or Alaska).
Last, but definitely not least, MadLibs can be an absolute riot once your children are old enough to know parts of speech – and to understand the humor in the final story.
Books: These are an old standby, but whether you bring physical books or books on CD, they’re a perfect way to occupy your children without killing brain cells. Just pack up your kids favorite books or, better yet, have a special book collection just for road trips. Older children might enjoy picking out a new book just for the trip. If it’s an historical novel relevant to what you’ll be visiting, so much the better!
You can probably come up with even more ways to pass the time that your kids would enjoy, without resorting to watching five hours of movies. This helps keep your trips educational, both in the car and at your destination.